I’ve been surfing the Web to find the best definition of God’s amazing grace, and to my amusement, the best definition comes from Jonah’s complaining in ancient times.
God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites (census: 120,000 people). The problem was that Jonah abhorred them and thought they should get the destruction they deserved.
Nineveh was a city of bullies, and the hooligans had committed many crimes — including forced incest and murder — caused much injury and avoided justice.
Rather than obeying God and spreading revival fires among Ninevites, Jonah booked passage on a ship and sailed away from God and his missionary assignment.
You know the story: A storm came, Jonah was tossed overboard, a big fish swallowed him and he was in his belly for three days for serious contemplation, and then was vomited onto shore.
Having become certain that obeying God is a good idea, Jonah held a revival for the Ninevites. Jonah cried out to them with convincing sincerity: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
The leaders and citizens of the city believed his words, repented and forsook their evil ways. In turn, God expressed his amazing grace, according to Scripture: “God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”
Jonah, very frustrated because the arrogant lawless bullies wouldn’t get what they deserved, said to God, in essence, “I knew it. Your grace is sufficient to forgive them in spite of their belligerent wickedness.”
Actually, he said these words in Scripture, and his rant defined God’s amazing grace better than modern resources: “I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, one who relents from doing harm!”
With the backdrop of Jonah’s lack of grace, there was a lovely display of God’s amazing grace.
And the story is a perfect illustration of the two lines in the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” that we sing without meditation:
“Was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved.”
Through the sermon God placed in the mouth of Jonah, he taught the Ninevites to fear the encroaching calamity while grace remained available to repent and halt judgment.
Last week, I wrote about the blasphemous John Newton being at the helm of a tall sailing ship sure to be swamped in a storm. As he labored to steer in the raging tempest, a Scripture taught by his mother came to mind. The verse said there is a judgment side of God and a merciful side of God, and he was on the wrong side of God. Here’s the verse:
“Because you neglected all my advice and did not want my correction, I will laugh at your calamity. I will mock when what you fear, when what you dread comes like a storm, and your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.” (Proverbs 1:25-27, International Standard Version).
Because God reached down to him in the midst of a deadly storm, Newton wrote, “Was grace that taught my heart to fear.”
Then he moved onto God’s other side, the merciful side, the “saved” side, and wrote this: “And grace my fear relieved.”
Suddenly being on God’s forgiving side, Newton felt secure, although waters continued raging and winds continued howling.
In psychology, it’s often said that a significant emotional event (SEE) changes people’s lives. Newton had a SEE when about to be shipwrecked, drowned and eaten by sea creatures. Jonah had a SEE when eaten by a sea creature. The Ninevites had a SEE when their impending fate was forecast.
When a person with a life-dominating problem “bottoms out,” he or she is having a SEE. Change should occur because he or she should be available for grace to teach his or her heart to fear.
In marriage counseling, I ask the offended person to crack the door of redemption to give counseling opportunities to heal relationships. I’m actually saying to individuals, “Now that your mate’s heart has been taught to fear, let’s work through the problem.” Most offended ones are willing for me to fan the spark of hope.